Crisis Wars

On Walking the Berkshires Tim Abbott discusses the economic collapse of Zimbabwe. The question is, why haven’t the people of Zimbabwe revolted and kicked Mugabe out?

Zimbabwe went through a bloody and traumatic war of independence from 1966 to 1979, and a civil war in the south of Zimbabwe that began in 1982 and lasted till 1987.

Maybe John Xenakistheory of generational or crisis wars provides an explanation.

Crisis wars are cyclic within a society, region or nation. They’re the most horrible kinds of wars. They’re so horrible and they traumatize a nation so much that there’s unanimous agreement to do everything possible to prevent any such war from ever happening again. When the last generation of people who lived through the crisis war disappear (retire or die) all at the same time, then the nation enters a new crisis period, leading to a new crisis war. That’s why a new crisis war typically begins around 60 years after the previous one ends.

Maybe the people of Zimbabwe are just so traumatized that they will put up with anything to avoid starting a new civil war.

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One thought on “Crisis Wars

  1. Far from withering away, there are very few examples of failed states, even though there are many failed economies. Somalia may be one of the very few modern examples. When countries in crisis implode, they tend to end up fragmenting areas that may be self-governing (Kurdish Iraq or Somaliland) and others that are ungovernable.

    Autocratic and despotic governments clamp down hard and use all the cards in the ultra-nationalist playbook to maintain control. North Koreans have a miserable standard of living, yet we don’t put a lot of stock in their rising up and throwing off the yoke. Some in the US expect this to happen in Cuba after Castro dies but I would not be so sanquine about it. There are reasons why Cuban’s haven’t kicked Castro out that go beyond fear of his regime.

    The same may be true for Zimbabwe. While the crisis is most certainly of Mugabe’s making, he did not sow all of its seeds and has used both neo-colonial scapegoating and the divisions of tribal identity to maintain his power. While unquestionably despotic today, Mugabe’s status as a hero of the liberation struggle – rumered to have been castrated in prison – still carries weight with his constituents.

    There may also be the fear of a Crisis War that you describe on the scale of Ruanda, and memory of this is more recent than 1982-1987’s factional fighting in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe committed its armed forces, along with its neighbor Namibia, to bolster the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1998-2002 against a rebellion backed by several of its East African neighbors. The roots of this war go back to the Rwandan genocide. Estimates of casualties from this conflict are between 1-1.5 million, the overwhelmoing majority of which are civilian.

    The Zimbabwean opposition made resistance to the war in Congo its rallying cry during this period and some analysts believe this accellerated the decline of Mugabe’s regime. International financial institutions held back a 240 million loan to Zimbabwe several years ago specifically to penalize Zimbabwe for its involvement in the war and the profiteering of some of its high government officials through their commerical holdings in Congo and personal contracts with the Congolese government.

    A final thought: people who endure non-equilibrium environments over a prolonged period of time – droughts and famines and the vicissitudes of capricious government – develop a fatalism that to some may look like defeat or passivity but which may in fact be simply survival mechanisms. Bob Dylan sang; “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose”, but Zimbabweans still have things they value and cherish that armed revolt would threaten. Zimbabwe also has powerful friends in the region (Namibia and Angola and Congo and maybe even Mozambique) and those contemplating revolt would need to consider how to counter them and where to look for support. Not from Zambia, which has actually seen modest economic gains and a robust tourist sector of its economy at Zimbabwe’s expense, or Botwana, secure in its diamond wealth and non-interventionist by long custom. Maintaining the integrity of sovereign states is a solid plank in the OAU and keeps it from intervening in the internal affairs of its members except in exceptional situations like Darfur of when invited to do so by a member state.

    This leaves South Africa, the regional economic and military powerhouse and Zimbabwe’s largest trading partner. Regional destabilisation was a hallmark of the apartheid years. South Africa has challenges of its own and a government less secure in itself or above reproach than was the case under Mandela. I would not look for leadership here, not when the popular resistance is characterized as a movement by traitors to the liberation struggle and colonial settlers (who incidently make up just 1% of Zimbabwe’s total population).

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